Saturday, May 10, 2008

Tandem Talk

All things considered, I prefer tandem riding to solo riding. I love the teamwork, camarderie and just plain quality time spent with my stoker. All of those things require good communication between captain and stoker. For the first few years after I discovered tandems, we communicated by voice only. This meant having to repeat things, some yelling and a few scares. If I told my stoker we were slowing or stopping or coasting and she didn't hear me, the bike could easily become difficult to control or, worst case, we could take a tumble. This is especially true on the Seavo which has IPS. (the stoker cannot tell whether I am pedalling just by looking). Also it was impossible to have a private conversation when riding in a group.

A couple of years ago I stumbled across Precision Tandems and the Tandem-Com intercom system. I bought one and was immediately sold on the benefits of an intercom system. Now we talk in a conversational voice or even a whisper with no need to repeat anything. By simply lowering our voices we have private conversations that passersbys can't share. We are hooked and wouldn't think of riding without this system.

The unit is small and light. There are ports for headphones for the captain and stoker and individual volume controls for both. There is also a port for an outside input such as an ipod or bluetooth. The unit takes two AAA batteries. Our rides in the country usually take 3-4 hours and this intercom typically lasts 15-20 rides on a pair of batteries. The headsets are very light and comfortable. I often forget that I'm wearing them when I'm riding. One drawback to this unit is that it's wired. Everytime you get off the bike the headsets have to be unplugged. We've forgotten to do this a couple of times, only to have the headsets ripped off our heads as we got off the bike and walked away. We usually carry the unit in the seat bag behind the captain. The stoker is in charge of the unit and responsible for unplugging us both when we stop. The other drawback to this system is that, unless you adjust volume before you get on the bike, one rider must make adjustments for both crew members, since the unit is stowed behind the captain.

This year I decided to upgrade to the wireless Tandem-Com Digital Wireless System. The system comes with two headsets, two chargers and two comm units. There were issues right off the bat. This system uses rechargable internal batteries. When I tried charging them, they would not charge. I returned the units to Mark at Precision Tandems and he found that the battery packs were not plugged in to the units. Problem solved. After fully charging the units, we took them out for a field test. To our disappointment we found that the volume level was very low, even at the "Max" setting and there were frequent cut outs, such that communication was impoossible. I contacted Mark again and he suggested we try our old headsets. I was skeptical, but it worked. Volume was restored and communication was great. I am shipping the bad headsets back to Mark for a new set.

Having said all that, I can recommend the wirelss units. We'll keep our old setup for backup.